This work originally first published in 1942, traces the history of the maritime activity of the Indians in all its forms from the earliest times. It deals with what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, but at the same time often forgotten chapters of Indian history. The subject, the author says, has not been treated systematically by any writer, and has not received, by any means, the attention it deserves.
Radha Kumad Mookerji was a noted historian and politician. He started his career as Professor of history in the Bengal National College under the principalship of Sri Aurobindo. Subsequently he taught at the Universities of Mysore and Lucknow. Afterwards he continued to be Emeritus Professor of History at Lucknow University where his friends have endowed a lectureship in his name. He published about fifteen books on different aspects of ancient India. He was decorated with Padma Vibhushana in 1956.
ABOUT two years ago I submitted a thesis which was approved by the Calcutta University for my Premchand Roychand Studentship. It was subsequently developed into the present work. As indicated by its title, it is an attempt to trace the history of the maritime activity of the Indians in all its forms from the earliest times. It deals with what is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, but at the same time often forgotten, chapters of Indian history. The subject, so far as my information goes, has not been treated systematically by any writer, and has not received by any means the attention it deserves.
This is my excuse for attempting this subject, but the attempt, from its very nature, is beset with difficulties. The field of work is new and almost unexplored, and one has to work at it single-handed. I have had to depend chiefly on my own resources for the discovery, collection, and arrangement of the materials.
I have indicated fully, both in the Introduction and in the footnotes, all the sources of information I have drawn upon. The evidences used have been both literary and monumental. For the collection of literary evidences I have had to be at great pains in ransacking the vast field of Sanskrit literature as well as Pali (especially the Jatakas) throughout which they are scattered, and then in piecing the evidences together. The Sanskrit texts, as well as the Pali, I have studied both in the original and in translations. Besides Sanskrit and Pali, I have been able to gather some very valuable evidences from old Tamil literature with the help of a book by the late Mr. Kanakasabhai Pillay, now unfortunately out of print, called The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago. I have had also to consider and use all the evidences bearing on my subject that are contained in classical literature, made accessible to Indian students by the translations of McCrindle. Old Bengali literature, too, has been laid under contribution in connection with the account of Bengali maritime activity. Further, I have, with the help of translations, found out all the evidences bearing on the history of Indian maritime activity that are furnished by Persian works, most of which have been made accessible through Sir Henry Elliot's History in eight volumes. Lastly, I have had to use the material supplied by such Chinese and Japanese works as are accessible through translations in giving an account of Indian maritime intercourse with the Farther East.
I have had also to study MSS. of unpublished works, both Sanskrit and Bengali, in the original. Much labour was involved in the search for these Sanskrit MSS., especially those which belong to the class of Silpa Sastras, a good number of which I found in the famous Tanjore Palace Library (containing some i8,000 Sanskrit works), in the Adiyar Library, Madras, and in the possession of some old Indian artists at Kumbakonam. I have also derived from local tradition and old folk-lore some very valuable materials for the history of the once famous port of Gaur, the old capital of Bengal.
Of the MSS. used, those specially noticeable are the Yuktikalpataru, and the Arthasastra of Kautilya which has been recently published. These two important and interesting, but hitherto unknown and unutilized, Sanskrit works have great value as sources of economic history. The former gives an account of ancient Indian shipbuilding, the like of which cannot perhaps be found elsewhere in the entire range of Sanskrit literature, while the latter throws some new light on the economic condition of Maurya India which will, I trust, materially advance our knowledge of that brilliant period of Indian history. I may also refer in this connection to the Sanskrit work Bodhisattvavadana Kalpalata of Kshemendra, which is being published under the auspices of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. This work also throws light on some aspects of economic life in the Maurya epoch.
I have also tried to discover and gather all the evidence derivable from archaeology. The many representations of ships and boats, and of scenes of naval activity, that are furnished by old Indian art have been brought together and adduced as evidence indicating Indian maritime enterprise. Some of these representations I have myself discovered in the course of my travels, and these have not, I think, been previously published. To the kindness of some of my artist friends I owe the sketches of several representations of ships and boats that occur in old Indian sculpture and painting, such as those of Ajanta, and also on old Indian coins.
My thanks are due to Messrs. Bejoy Kumar Sarkar and Narendranath Sen Gupta, my old pupils at the Bengal National College, Calcutta, and now students of the Harvard University, U.S.A., for their kind assistance ; and also to Mr. Ramananda Chatterji, M.A., editor of the Modern Review, for the courtesy of his permission to reprint those portions of my work which appeared in his Review. Nor must I omit to express my obligation to my friend Mr. Benoy Kumar Sarkar, M.A., Lecturer, Bengal National College, Calcutta, whose constant help in manifold ways it is alike my pleasure and duty to gratefully acknowledge.
I have also to express my gratitude to the Hon'ble Maharaja Manindrachandra Nandy Bahadur of Cossimbazar, and Dr. Rashbehary Ghose, M.A., D.L., C.S.I., C.I.E., for the generous help they have accorded me in preparing and publishing this work.
PROF. MOOKERJI'S monograph on Indian shipping and maritime activity, from the earliest times to the end of the Moghul period, gives a connected and comprehensive survey of a most fascinating topic of Indian history. The character of the work as a learned and up-to-date compilation from the most authoritative sources, indigenous and foreign, must not be allowed to throw into the background the originality and comprehensiveness of the conception. Here, for the first time, fragmentary and scattered records and evidences are collated and compared in a systematic survey of the entire field ; and one broad historical generalization stands out clearly and convincingly, of which all histories of world culture will do well to take note, viz. the central position of India in the Orient world, for well-nigh two thousand years, not merely in a social, a moral, a spiritual, or an artistic reference, but also and equally in respect of colonizing and maritime activity, and of commercial and manufacturing interests. A multitude of facts of special significance also come out vividly, and, in several cases, for the first time, in the author's presentation, e.g. the teeming ports and harbours of India, the harbour and other maritime regulations of the Mauryan epoch, the indigenous shipbuilding craft, the Indian classification of vessels and their build, the paramount part played by indigenous Indian shipping in the expansion of Indian commerce and colonization from the shores of Africa and Madagascar to the farthest reaches of Malaysia and the Eastern Archipelago ; the auxiliary character of the foreign intermediaries, whether Greek, Arabian, or Chinese ; the sources of India's manufacturing supremacy for a thousand years in her advances in applied chemistry, etc. In establishing these positions, the author, besides availing himself of the archaeological (including architectural and numismatic) as well as other historical evidence, has drawn upon hitherto unpublished manuscripts and other obscure sources. But the signal merit of the survey is that these facts of history are throughout accompanied by their political, social, or economic interpretation, so that the monograph is not a mere chronicle of facts, but a chapter of unwritten culture-history, conceived and executed in a philosophical spirit. The author's style combines lucidity with terseness, compresses a large mass of facts into a small compass, and is equal alike to the enumeration of details and the march and sweep of a rapid historical survey.
One characteristic cannot escape the most casual reader of this volume : Prof. Mookerji takes his materials as he finds them, and does not clip and pare them down, in the name of historical criticism, or handle them after the accredited methods of speculative chronology. By confining himself to settled landmarks, and traversing his ground by rapid strides, proceeding from epoch to epoch, he is able to avoid the quicksands of Indian chronology. As for the critical methods of sifting evidence, there is a great deal of misconception in the air, and it is best to point out that the methods which are imperative in testing an alleged fact or event are highly unsuitable in a review of the formative forces, agencies, movements, of a nation's history as preserved in the storehouse of national tradition. To take an example from the so-called Higher Criticism, to explode the Mosaic authorship is not to explode Moses in culture-history. In fact, whether in Semitic, Chinese, or Indian philology, the destructive (and explosive) criticism of the seventies and eighties of the last century is now itself exploded, and has been followed by a finer and more accurate sense of historic origins and national evolutions. For the rest, it must be recognized that, while accuracy and scientific criticism, in the measure in which they are attainable in the social sciences, must always be essential to a right historical method, a first sketch or mapping of an entire province, the work of scouts, pioneers and conquerors, cannot usefully employ the methods of a trigonometrical or a cadastral survey.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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